Four Years of Dressing with Less

Aug 27

The Story

August 9, 2010, just after noon. I must have stumbled across Courtney’s Minimalist Fashion Project post while eating lunch. I read it several times, thought about how I’d been longing to simplify my closet. I wanted a wardrobe in which everything fit all of me–my body, my style, my values.

I left a waffling comment:

I think I’m in. My fall / winter clothes are packed away, so I’ll have to go to the basement and see what I would want to keep for the project! I love this idea!

Boy, did I ever love it. October 1 will mark four years during which I’ve kept a minimalist closet. I’ve written about it for the Project 333 site, as well as here. I’ve persuaded IRL friends, Twitter pals,clients, and blog readers to give it a try. The initial reactions to the project are often the same: fascination, trepidation, sometimes a defensive “I don’t even wear 33 different items” (often recanted when the speaker goes back to her closet and counts), and sometimes “I don’t like the way my clothes look. How could I find 33 items I’d wear for three months?”

My response to all reactions is the same: give it a try. Just one round of it. Box up what you’re not wearing that round, and see what happens. You don’t have to give it all away, but I’m betting once you get hooked, you’ll give away a lot of those boxed clothes. And I’ll bet you’ll get a better sense of what does flatter you, and as you build your small wardrobe, you’ll be happier and happier with how you look each day.

Project 333 morphed into Project 52/52–ending on Sunday–and that morphed into Project Ethical Elegance.

I asked on Twitter and Facebook what folks want to know about dressing with a minimalish (yes, -ish!) wardrobe. Here are my responses to questions–please feel free to share your own experiences and questions in the comments.

Questions

How do you incorporate “outsiders” in your wardrobe–the occasional colors to brighten up the uniform? Since the 90s when I realized New Yorkers (most city women) wear black to hide dirt just as much as for its chic factor, I’ve been a devotee of black. During my early Project 333, I shifted to gray–I’m no longer a city dweller, and I wanted something ever-so-slightly off of the expected. Last year when I gave up dye and grew out my silver hair, I felt a strong need for color, and I turned to accessories for that bit of bright. Over the past four years, I’ve invested in an orange handbag, a chic pink scarf, a red DKNY cozy. I think hard about each accessory, try to imagine using it with every option in my closet. This spring, I got a ton of compliments when I carried my orange bag and wore m hot pink rain coat. Underneath? Gray sheath dress, fishnets, and gray Malibrans. Accessories are like the party-in-the-back part of a mullet!

Do you feel like you have enough options? I do! After almost four years, I’ve filled wardrobe gaps, found pieces that offer flexibility (check out the DKNY cozy linked above). Accessories (do I sound like a broken record?) help. I may only have two belts, but I have scarves that I also wear as belts. I may have gotten bored a few months ago, but it wasn’t the lack of options!

How do you keep from being stinky? This question really cracked me up, but I was assured it was serious. I rarely wear perfume, and I avoid smokers like the plague, so I don’t get too much environmental stink on my clothes. The first “term” of Project 333, my dryer was broken, and it was a chilly fall (read, not much outdoor clothesline action). I was pretty stingy about how often I washed clothes. I have plenty of undergarments to see me through a week without laundry, and unless I spill, I can wear my black pants, jeans, and skirts several times without washing. If you don’t have a washer/dryer at home, it’s easy enough to do a quick hand wash of that day’s clothes in the sink. Very few of my items require dry cleaning.  Most of the time, if I’m in a sweaty situation, I’m wearing my work out or cleaning clothes. Finally, I wear an apron at home, in the kitchen, when I’m working in my sketchbook, sometimes if I’m out in the yard with the dogs. That’s more to prevent stains than stink, I guess.

How do I deal with relatively inexpensive jewelry I don’t wear but was gifted to me? This can be a pickle, but I’ve used a few different approaches. First, I’ve shared with the folks who tend to buy me costume jewelry that I don’t need or want about my project before a gift-giving occasion. Another option is to see if you can create something you would love to wear out of the pieces. My talented bff Sara of Et Voila Design, for example, will take your unworn bijoux to create a stunning OOAK piece that will preserve the sweet intention behind the gift and let you enjoy it.

How do you deal with those deep-season items that are essential at the weather extremes, but not really used at any other time? I like to layer, which makes many of my warm weather pieces adaptable to cold weather. For instance, my Karina dresses are short-sleeved or sleeveless, making them perfect for summer. With a light cardi, they work in early fall and late spring. Add a heavier sweater, and I’m set for winter. Add tights or no, pull on boots or sandals: endlessly flexible. As far as heavy winter coats and boots? I streamline what I have, purchase with flexibility in mind, and accept that living in New England means I can’t do without cold-weather gear.

I get bored easily with my clothes, even now that I buy fairly nice clothes. Not designer, but well made clothes for work. Do you get bored? In nearly four years of dressing minimalishly, I’ve only gotten bored once, about halfway through 52/52. I love the challenge of styling what I have in new ways (and since tights don’t count, I’ve amused myself by building a small, funky collection). Accessories, selected with care and an eye to edginess, help a lot. Project 333 is great because it only lasts three months, and I don’t know about you, but I can do almost anything for three months. At the end of each three month session, I refined my closet. I thought about what I’d been missing, what would have made me even happier when I got dressed. And then I made those very specific purchases (I’m looking at you, hot pink pleated rain coat!).

How do I get my husband to throw out stuff he hasn’t worn since college? Courtney wrote a terrific post on how to live with family who aren’t participating in your changes. When Neal saw how easy my refined wardrobe made my life, how having an emptier closet brought me more ease, he made some changes to his own closet. 

What do you do when you look into the closet and you hate every single thing in there? I suck it up. It’s only happened one or two times, and it’s usually just my bad attitude that I have to smack back to its cave. By considering what makes me feel good (for me, that means well put together, like if Cary Grant suddenly stepped out of a movie and asked me to go for a drink, I wouldn’t be ashamed of how I look), what flatters me, and what is aesthetically pleasing to me, and investing in those pieces over time, I’ve made it easier to love my closet every day.

I still struggle with balancing a work vs weekend wardrobe…suggestions? Working as a professor makes this a little easier for me than if I worked in a company requiring a more corporate dress code. I don’t dress much differently on the weekends than I do for work. During the summer, I wear dresses or skirts and a tank top or t-shirt. I have work out and cleaning clothes that don’t count towards my 33 or 52 items. I love wearing my black slacks, a tank, and cardi to work with Fluevog Malibrans, and with my Ugg sneakers on the weekend. I have a few dresses that I’d never wear on the weekend, but most of the items, by changing out accessories, are great for running errands, visiting, or even hanging on my porch, writing or drawing. Honestly, I like feeling well put together when I pick up my CSA share!

Intrigued?

If you’d like to start Project 333 (you can start any time; there’s no reason to wait), but you’re feeling a little anxious about cutting down the wardrobe, I recommend you start with Courtney Carver’s excellent Micro-Course Dress with Less: Click here to view more details.* The course is a week-long, and it includes pdf worksheets, playlists to inspire you (Courtney’s a real Mix Master), and access to a private FaceBook group, where you’ll find lots of people ready to cheer for you and answer questions.

And if you have any questions about paring down your wardrobe, well, I’m here for you. I’d love to chat with you about your clothing list-sometimes it helps to hear that you really can get by with one pair of black pants!

Are you intrigued? What’s holding you back?

 *Please note: I am an affiliate for this program. I believe with all of my heart in Courtney’s work. Almost four years in, I know her advice works!

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Chanin-istas: Ethical Elegance

Aug 21

I’m about to embark on a new stitching and wardrobe adventure. If blame is to be laid, it sits at the feet of Gale and Kay. Vicki must take her share, too. The blog posts, the Tweets, the Instagram photos: call me powerless against the pretty to be found on the Internet.

Last week I had lunch with Gale (we were plotting our Fiber College Savvy Storytelling class. Join us!), and she brought her stitching with her.

I woke up the next morning from a dream. An Alabama Chanin dream. Such dreams are not to be denied.

I made my way to a magical site.

book I ordered a book. I ordered a kit.

I stalked my mail.

I soothed my anticipation by learning how to love my thread and all about Natalie Chanin’s generous open source sharing of her work.

Last night when I at last could sit down with my book and kit, I devoured the book. Devoured. I nodded as I read, as I learned more about the beliefs that gird Alabama Chanin. It all makes so much sense.

And I think I had a conversion.

I sent this out into Twitter: “I want to make and wear every garment in this book”.

And Kay, ever the voice of reason, wrote back “Nothing stopping you.”

She’s right, of course.

So my plan, my next step in my elegant minimalist wardrobe project is to move, piece by piece, toward a more ethical wardrobe. I feel good buying dresses from Karina (check out my guest Dresstination post!), a cozy tunic sweatshirt from Cal Patch, a work bag from Moop. These makers, Alabama Chanin, too, have convinced me that I can dress ethically and elegantly.

fabric

I’ve never hand-sewn a garment before. I’m starting my conversion into a Chanin-ista with a shawl. I’m planning a short skirt next, and then I’m going to work my way up to a dress.

With my 52/52 project coming to a close, I’m declaring myself a new one: Project Ethical Elegance. I’d love to hear about your sources for clothing that fits both bills.

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Ten on Tuesday: Waiting Room Edition

Aug 05

Carole asked us to create a list of ten things to do in a waiting room. Here’s the thing: sometimes it’s no big deal, hanging out in a waiting room. Sometimes, though, it is a really big, nerve wracking deal.

1. Read. I always have a book on me, even if it’s on my phone. If I anticipate being anxious in the waiting room, I bring a super engrossing book.Dune

2. Knit. Duh.

3. Crochet. This is easier for me to pick up and put down, and if I’m working on something with motifs, it’s extra-portable, too.

4. Write letters. I’m a fan of hand written letters. All too often I fill my days with other activities, though, and miss the opportunity to write a letter, fold it, put it in an envelope and make a pal smile when she opens her mailbox. Writing a letter takes my mind off worries, and it makes me happier.

5. Work. During the semester, I’ll often bring papers to grade or a novel I’m editing for a client.

6. Sketch. I haven’t done this yet, but waiting rooms offer a perfect opportunity to practice sketching faces. I’m taking a few online sketching classes, and I’m inspired to use waiting room time this way.

7. Mind map. Even though I have apps for that, I prefer good old pen and paper (I’m noticing a theme). Whatever problem in my creative or teaching work needs a solution, well, waiting room time is a good time to explore it.

8. Practice breathing. If I’m waiting to go in to something that scares me (MRIs shake me up for days ahead of time), inhaling deeply, feeling my breath circle around inside my body, and exhaling while I pretend I’m an ocean wave helps. Of course, this might freak out your fellows in the waiting room. But isn’t it better to be relaxed?

9. Edit pictures. I don’t have any fancy editing programs on my computer, so if I’m going to edit, a lot of times, I’ll use an app on my iPad or iPhone. This has double benefit–I’m using time productively, and I get to smile when I see the things I enjoy in pictures.

10. Day dream. Why not embrace the inability to be any where else and day dream? I like to imagine what ifs–what if I moved back to New Mexico? What if we sold our house and drove cross country in an RV? What if we move to Maine? What if I change careers? What if we build our addition? What if I rearrange my studio?

I’m heading to the doctor today to get checked out; I arrived from Paris with some kind of lingering ick. My plan is to bring crochet, a book, and my sketchbook, just in case I have a long wait.

What do you like to do to amuse yourself in a waiting room?

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Thursday Loves

Jun 05

porchSure, it’s officially still spring, but with grades submitted and my other end-of-semester duties pretty well dispatched (except cleaning my work office. It’s like a library threw up in there. I’ve never allowed a work space to get so sloppy!), it’s time to slow down and call out “Summer’s here!”

Want a peek at what I’ve been loving lately?

1. TTL Mystery Shawl. I’m using Swans Island Fingering (so is Sara…we chose it as a reminder of our time in Maine at Fiber College with lovely Kirsten). This yarn feels great both as I’m knitting and once it is fabric.

2. Crochet! I’ve taught a lot of private crochet lessons this year, and I’ve been working on my Dune shawl. I’ve spent more of my craft time crocheting than knitting. There. The secret is out.

3. Mary’s invitation to play Book Bingo. I’ve been doing so much academic reading lately, and I miss reading texts other than journal articles. I’m well on my way to calling out Bingo. Play along, but know that I’m probably going to win. (Probably. Maybe.)

4. Karina dresses. I’ve said it before, but with Megan and Ruby joining me for my upcoming trip to Scotland and France, I’ll say it again: these dresses make the best travel companions. They are easy to wear, easy to style, easy to care for.

5. Ash Beckham’s Ted Talk. I love her message. I’ve watched this over and over and over.

6. Smoky Sweet Potato Burgers. This recipe is so good. I abhor boxed veggie burgers. I try to avoid soy, and I’m no fan of meat replacements. I haven’t eaten meat in nearly 16 years, and I don’t miss it. I don’t want a fake version of it. If I’m going to have a patty of some sort, I want it to be toothy and flavorful and taste like something. This recipe tastes like something-something GOOD! I usually make the full recipe, cook it all, and freeze the patties I don’t eat. They warm up nicely. I only made the dressing the first time…it’s delicious, but I like the patties on their own.

7. Living Proof products. Sara got me hooked on Amp, and then I got samples of Perfect Hair Day Shampoo and Prime Style Extender, and I had a few really good hair days. I’ll be buying full-size products soon!

8. Everything about Carla Sonheim’s work, site, and classes. If you want to have a playful afternoon, take a look at some of her tutorials and mess around with art supplies!

9. Sandra Pawula’s e-course Living with Ease. Give yourself this gift if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

10. Life on the porch! Neal put up the ceiling fan this weekend, and declared the porch finished. I’ve been out there every day, rain or shine, hot or cold (hey, that’s what blankets are for)! It’s like having a vacation home right in my own back yard (well, right off my kitchen).

Spill: what have you been loving?

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Ten on Tuesday: Recently Read Edition

Mar 25

I can’t wait to see what every one else responding to Carole’s request for Last Ten Books Read lists. I’m building up my summer break reading list!

Here are my last ten books read (I’m not including work-related books):

1. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. This is sweet without being saccharine. As a graduate ca. 1987, the cultural references made the book nostalgic for me, too. I would have worn this out when I was in middle school.

2. Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler. Well, I’m listening, and I’m not quite finished. It, not surprisingly, reminds me a LOT of her The Accidental Tourist, only with older characters. I’m not wowed by it, but the story telling is solid, and I’m interested in what happens to the characters.

3. Beautiful Wreck by the beautiful Larissa Brown. Read my review on Goodreads here. And read this book. I love it.

4. Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. I confess to being a HUGE fan of Cather’s. Shoot, I planned a trip around seeing her house (do you like going to writers’ homes? My number one favorite touristy thing to do!) This book made me weep. I mean, the last page had me sobbing. There were sentences that made my heart beat faster.

5. How Animals Grieve by Barbara King. I’m not usually a big non-fiction fan, but this was one of the best books I read in 2013. I gave it to several people after finishing it. Fascinating subject, and an excellent model of research engaging the reader. My Goodreads review.

6. Dog Shaming by Pascale Lemire. It’s cute if you like funny pictures of dogs.

7. The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls. I enjoyed this, but I found it predictable at times. Still, the writing is enjoyable, and the characters about which we care the most are portrayed effectively.

8. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a good reminder to just get your damn work done.

9. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. I listened to this while I commuted and hiked my dogs. The writing left me cold, and I’m no history buff (at least of this period), so my indifference may be that I’m not the audience for the book.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I’m cheating. I read this last summer. But I loved it so much, and I want you to read it, too!

What have you been reading?

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Silver Locks Project: 11 Month Update

Mar 13

photo 2Here I am, fresh from my stylist’s chair. You know what she did today?

She cut and carved out the last bits of yellow.

Eleven months in, another 1.75″ cut, and I’ve pretty much reached my natural color. There is a tiny bit left in my fringe because I wasn’t willing to cut them any more. Originally I estimated I’d get to this point October 2014, but my willingness to wear my hair a bit shorter in the interest of speeding things along cut (get it? cut?) seven months off the project.

Growing out the silver was far less painful than I imagined. In fact, it was only in the last two months or so that the yellow ends began to bother me. Most days, I rolled my hair into a twist so I wouldn’t have to look at them.

My hair is shorter than it has been since we bleached it last April, but I’m pleased to have my real color shining through. To keep my hair shiny, I follow Em’s basic guidelines: consume healthy foods, don’t over wash (I usually wash every third day), use sulfate-free shampoo. Today she recommended that I use a violet shampoo every now and again, to counteract any deposits from water/pollution that my turn my hair dull.

Here’s another view:

photo 3

 

You can read all about the Silver Locks Project. If you’re thinking of quitting the dye (and I am the last person to judge you if you are not interested in quitting the dye, trust me!), and you want more details about my journey, just leave a note in the comments. I’m glad to answer any questions!

 

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52/52 Project Update

Mar 08

Way back in September I embarked on my 52/52 (52 items for 52 weeks) project. Debbie asked how it was going recently, which motivated me to post about it.

Here’s the short truth: I am bored.

I examined this during a writing session last week, and I realized that I’ve been wearing pretty much the same wardrobe since October 2010. There have been some additions/replacements, but dressing minimally, starting with Project 333, has been a habit for well over three years now. Don’t worry. I’m not rushing out to fill my closet. Instead, I’ll review what I’ve been wearing and push through the boredom.

Of the items on my original 52/52 list, there are several I haven’t worn at all or only once (I won’t include the summer-only clothes since, well, it hasn’t been summer since I started):

  • Eileen Fisher dress (I never bought it!)
  • White blouse (it’s still packed away from summer’s P333)
  • Black tank (I had planned to buy a second, but I don’t need it yet)
  • Black turtleneck (couldn’t decide on one to buy)
  • Chinoa boots (still need repair)

I have added a few things, allowed in my monthly swap rule–two sweaters given to me as Christmas gifts, and a gray dress with elbow-length sleeves.

Over the next week, while I’m on Spring Break, I’ll clean my closet and bureau and decide if this is really project 47/52 or if I want to add items into the mix.

Despite my recent boredom, I continue to prefer dressing with less. Eventually, I’d like to figure out an even smaller year-round wardrobe.

What have you been wearing that you love lately?

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